Monday, July 31, 2006

Mixed Marriages

Today is our second wedding anniversary, so what better time to bring up one of the most significant differences between PDM and me. No, not that one! Get your minds out of the gutter. I’m talking about something much more fundamental… on the same scale as differences in race, religion, or college football affiliation (don’t laugh – this is important down here in the Deep South). We have a mixed marriage. That’s right. PDM is a Mac person and I use a PC.

It’s not the end of the world. We can (and do) use each others’ computers. I’m just more comfortable using a PC than a Mac. I have many more years of experience with the PC, I have to use them at work (highly specialized scientific applications are usually only available for PCs), and I have always purchased a PC rather than a Mac for home use because they are so much cheaper. PDM’s home computers have always been Macs, and he is an enthusiast. Like most (all?) Mac users, PDM is quite vocal about it.

Any time either of us has a problem remotely having anything to do with a PC, PDM will invariably find a way to blame it directly on Bill Gates. He even blames problems with Mac stuff on Microsoft. “If they didn’t have to make it PC-compatible, it would work fine.” Macs are better because they are built on UNIX, don’t get viruses, are cross-compatible, don’t crash, and are basically superior in every way. I’ve heard it all before. To the point that when he starts talking about how much better Macs are than PCs and how Bill Gates and Microsoft are evil, money-grubbing, unfairly competing pigs, all I hear is “Blah blah Mac blah blah blah…” and my eyes roll back in my head.

My problem with using a Mac is that because I learned how to do everything first on a PC, doing it on a Mac seems backward and unnatural. I don’t enjoy things that make me feel stupid. And I can't get used to that one-button mouse. Sure, it looks cool, but when I use it I feel handicapped. Having no scroll bar is bad enough, but I get antsy if I can't 'right click' on stuff. Plus there are some things I just don’t know how to do yet on a Mac and I get frustrated trying to locate an appropriate application for something so simple it would take me two minutes on a PC. I’m sure that will get better the more time I spend using PDM’s Mac. And about my PCs – they may well be inferior to an equivalent Mac, and I am not a huge fan of Microsoft or Bill Gates, but as long as I feel that a PC is a good bargain and will do what I need it to do, I will probably continue to buy them.

In spite of our significant difference of opinion on computers, PDM and I get along very well and enjoy spending time together. We are best friends and that one thing will smooth over an awful lot of irritating differences, like his near-constant grumbling about traffic and vocal Mac superiority complex, and my ever-growing shoe collection and refusal to ever cook anything. I hope we will spend many more happy years together, during which I can tune out all that crap he says about how his Mac is better than my PC.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Rain, rain everywhere... and not a drop here.

We seem to have pissed off the rain gods. This weekend it rained hard all around us. Tennessee, Alabama, south Georgia, north of us at Lake Lanier... all got some rain this weekend. In fact, on Saturday a large band of thunderstorms tracked across the entire Atlanta area. We could hear the thunder and the sky looked promisingly dark and cloudy, so we went online to check the radar loop. That's when we noticed it: it was one continuous band of heavy rain, except for one spot where there was a very small gap in the band. Guess where that gap ended up going? That's right -- it went right over our house. It is as if there is an invisible force field or bubble centered over our yard that keeps it from raining here. It is getting downright weird how it will rain everywhere except in our neighborhood. What are the odds? I work 9 miles from home and one day last week it was raining so hard during my ride home that I could barely see the car in front of me. It rained for the first 8 miles and the last mile was bone dry. Will whoever put the "no rain" curse on us please cut it out? It isn't funny anymore.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

I got nothin'

All I did today was sleep late, listen to Wait Wait, and study all day. Nothing to see here. Move along...

Friday, July 28, 2006

Cats As Art

Friday CatBlogging

This photo was not staged. I put some stuff on top of the washing machine to get it out of the way while I was cleaning. Zima came along and decided it was a good place to curl up for a sunny nap. Cats have a knack for artistic placement. They can be decorative, living art. Too bad Zima's only decorating the laundry room...

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Ups and Downs

Mostly down this week. The ABR exam (part 1 of 3) is coming up in less than a month, and at this point my studying should kick into overdrive. But instead of doubling my efforts, it seems like my brain has shifted into neutral and now the clutch won't work. This has been the worst week of the summer. I feel tired, drained, and disoriented. If this is what it feels like one month out, I am really not looking forward to the next four weeks. Apparently, I'm not handling the stress all that well. But anyway... enough about that. I've noticed another "Dilberty" thing going on at work and that should be more fun to talk about than test prep or the lack thereof.

They started a new employee health initiative a few weeks back and I think the concept needs a little work. I have no idea who “they” are – probably the same group responsible for the “Weekly Thoughtful Reminders”. Some flyers appeared on bulletin boards around our building that suggest we use the stairs instead of the elevator if we are going up or down only one or two floors. There is a catchy little slogan on the posters, and I have even seen the slogan on little ribbons attached to a few co-workers’ ID badges. Taking the stairs is a fine idea and something I do anyhow, mostly because the elevators are slow and I am impatient. There are just a few problems with this being an "official program" or whatever.

First, the stairwells in our building are almost impossible to find, unless you already know where they are. Most of them are not right next to the elevators. They tend to be tucked into strange little cubbyholes or located in the middle of a random hallway, far removed from the nearest lift. In the event of a fire, a lot of us would never find them. You would think that concurrent with the start of the "use the stairs" campaign, they might have taken the time to highlight the locations of said stairs.

The second problem is the one that I find perversely funny. On many of the stairwell doors, there is a bright red sign that states "WARNING: Alarm Will Sound If Door Is Opened." Doesn't exactly give you a warm and fuzzy feeling about trying those stairs, eh? And downright discouraging to anyone who doesn't regularly use the stairs, and who is presumably the target audience for the "use the stairs" campaign. The alarm doesn’t actually sound, of course, and those of us who are regular stair-climbers know this. I'm guessing whoever came up with the whole "use the stairs" idea doesn't ever use the stairs, or they might have had the foresight to have the scary signs removed so that the stairways look all nice and friendly.

Maybe the slogan should have been “Don’t Be Alarmed, It’s OK To Use The Stairs If You Can Find Them!” I don’t recall the real slogan, because my brain is fried (see first paragraph).

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Death, Taxes, and Jackie

They say there are a few things you can't escape, like death and taxes. And if you work, there will always be at least one co-worker who annoys the shit out of you. The most annoying co-worker I've ever had the displeasure of working with was Jackie. I encountered her on the job up in New England, years ago, in my previous career as a product development engineer. While not as entertaining as the legendary Joe, Jackie was just as annoying. If she had possessed some redeeming quality such as actually being a decent engineer, or having the ability to tell a good joke, we might have been more willing to put up with her. But she didn’t have any of those qualities. She finally found another job after we insisted she show up on time (every day!), put in 40-hour work weeks and do some actual work. Apparently, she considered this completely unreasonable.

One of the funniest things Jackie did involved some sample tubing we were evaluating. She needed to find a particular sample and the only thing she could remember about it was that the sample was 30" long. She went off looking through our prototype materials and walked back into the lab carrying a sample. She was holding the tubing over her head so that it wouldn't drag on the floor, and asked us in all seriousness, "Does this look like thirty inches to you?" We were stunned speechless. And of course ended up laughing our asses off later. But seriously... how did this woman get a masters degree in mechanical engineering? Was there not a lab class in there somewhere?

And then there were all the phone calls. Jackie doesn't have an "inside voice". Her speech is loud and grating. We all worked in cubicles. No doors, no privacy. She made a lot of personal calls, and we could hear every detail. We knew a lot more about Jackie and her family than any of us ever wanted to. Imagine our horror as we were all subjected to hearing her call and schedule an appointment for laser hair removal. For her back!!!

My current work situation is pretty good most of the time. The worst I have to deal with on a daily basis is the “flirt fest” that goes on in the hallway and some people that don’t quite pull their weight. None of this gets under my skin the way Jackie did. I believe this is because the people involved have some of those “redeeming qualities” that Jackie was totally devoid of. Give me a reason to like you, and I’ll put up with more of your crap. If your co-workers hate you, they are going to push you out, get you fired, or make you so miserable you’ll quit. That’s the take home message.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

SuperSize it... not.

Top ten things where less is more.

1. Razor blades. I don't think you need more than two blades to get a close shave. Based on a home experiment, there is no detectable difference in a four blade shave versus two. Using shaving cream or gel makes more of a difference than an extra blade (or three) will. How large will razors get before they have to stop adding blades? The newest ones are already ridiculously oversized.

2. Network logos in the corner of your TV screen. Way too big and obtrusive. And the new show adverts that take up the bottom 25% of the screen while you are *trying* to watch another show are obnoxious.

3. McMansions. Honestly, who needs an 8-bedroom, 6000 square foot home? On a quarter acre lot? If the width of your lawn never exceeds the minimum allowed setback and your home has more than three floors, you might be guilty of a little excess.

4a. Hummers. Outside of the military, there is no legitimate need for such a stupid vehicle. If you own one, you are simply advertising that you have more money (or credit) than common sense. And that you are overcompensating for certain, shall we say, "inadequacies" elsewhere. Schwarzenegger owns a fleet of 'em. Need I say more?

4b. Hummer limousines. Stupid. See above.

5. Fake boobs. American women are generally not satisfied with going up just a couple of cup sizes. Oh no. They tend to go for the "freak of nature" look, which is anything but natural looking. You guys can try to explain it all you want, but I will never understand how anyone could be remotely sexually attracted by these things. Ugh.

6. Convenience store fountain drinks (same for movie theater drinks). If the cup is so large that you need two hands to keep a grip on it, you are drinking too much coke.

7. Toilet paper rolls. First there was the single roll, which was fine. Then the double roll. OK, that works too. Now they have triple rolls, which don't fit on the dispenser quite right.

8. Movie length. Movies used to be mostly around 100 minutes, give or take. And you saw just a few previews and no commercials, so you were in and out of the theater in two hours max. Nowadays, movies seem to be getting longer and longer. When the movie is 2.5 hours, not counting the ten previews and six commercials you have to sit through first, it makes it really difficult to consume one of those giant two-hander cokes and not have to get up at some point.

9. Car audio systems. In college, I knew a guy who had the back seat of his car removed so he could add about a dozen different speakers. You could hear him coming a mile away, literally. This is pointless. Once the volume of your car's audio system is capable of exceeding the pain threshold, any additional power you add is criminal. There are few things more annoying than being subjected to someone else's crap music, filtered through the exterior of their automobile so that all you hear are the lowest frequencies and what passes for a beat.

10.Multi-function gadgets. Sometimes a phone should just be a phone. Ditto for the TV remote. When the gadget is so complicated that it is impossible to figure out how to use it for its original function, the product has been overdesigned. Someone failed to rein in the engineers during the design process. The engineers have run amok, and the results are not pretty. They're pretty nerdy.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Straws are weird, but crazy straws are fun!

I was sitting with PDM in a diner on Saturday morning drinking orange juice with a straw, when suddenly this occurred to me: drinking with a straw is kind of weird. Why are we are sucking up liquid through a plastic tube, rather than just drinking it out of the glass? When did this get started? And why? (And no, I was not high or anything... my brain just works in strange ways at times.) When is it considered OK to drink with a straw? When is it not polite? If you go to a fancy restaurant and order a coke, they will most definitely NOT give you a straw. But if you go to a diner or fast food restaurant, you will always get one. Hmmm.

Now it is Sunday and because I'd rather do anything besides study for the ABR Exam, I decided to look into the whole "drinking from a straw" thing. I figured it was a fairly recent invention, but it turns out that straws have been used for a long time, and the whole thing got started because some Sumerians wanted a way to drink beer without consuming the solid by-products of fermentation. (And you thought cheap American beers were skanky? Sounds like the Sumerians had us beat. Beer with floating sludge. Yummy... not.)

People used rye grass as a straw until the modern drinking straw was invented in 1888 by Marvin Stone. The first "modern" straws were made of paper that had been wrapped around a pencil and glued. Once Stone figured out how to make a decent paper straw, he invented a machine to mechanically wind the straws. Electrical engineers found out about the machine about twenty years later and started using spiral wound tubes in all kinds of useful things, like motors and electronics and textiles. Hooray for the geeky engineers! But anyway... Later on, straws would be made out of plastic rather than paper.

I still remember drinking out of paper straws. (Yes, I am that old.) But the best kind of drinking straws are "crazy straws". I'm not sure when they came on the scene, but I had them as a kid and loved 'em. I'm sure they were a pain in the butt to keep clean, and probably kind of expensive, but kids don't care about that stuff. Straws were just fun, period. Even if a kid can't get hold of a crazy straw, they can make a projectile out of the paper cover on a regular straw (or make an expanding snake thingy), blow bubbles in their drink, and then make obnoxious slurping noises when they finish. Straws are definitely more fun for kids than for adults, unless they are being used to drink beer, and when was the last time you saw *that* happen? That's right - sometime in ancient Sumeria. Nowadays, you'd get your ass kicked for drinking beer with a straw.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Creatures of habit

Ahhh, weekends. PDM and I have a pretty comfortable routine on the weekends. We vary it to fit whatever plans we've made, and abandon it completely if we're working on a project around the house, but lately the combination of summer heat and my need to spend large chunks of time studying for the board exam have caused us to make fewer plans and to totally eliminate working on home improvement projects. We've had plenty of lazy weekends in which to perfect the routine.

Without boring you with a blow-by-blow description of what we do and when, here are some of the things that make weekends so enjoyable and different from weekdays. This isn't all we ever do of course. This is just the stuff we do all the time.

Friday nights at the pub. Yeah, we're regulars. The bartenders pour our usual drinks when we walk in the door. We know all of the bartenders and managers and most of the people at the bar. It's a little like what went on at Cheers, only without all the Sam and Diane stuff. Everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came, yadda yadda yadda. We enjoy visiting with our friends there, especially the group of old retired guys who are there early in the evening. Sometimes we play trivia, sometimes we eat, and sometimes we just sit and drink. It is a sports bar, so we might come back on Saturday or Sunday to see a game, depending on what sports season we're in.

Saturday morning radio shows. We're geeks. We admit it. Perhaps that is why we find Inside the Black Box, Car Talk, and Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me! so amusing and interesting. I also like This American Life, but it isn't a Saturday morning radio show, technically. But you can listen to any of their shows on the internet any time you want, including Saturday mornings, so I will leave it on the list.

Mornings with a pot of hot tea, the internet, the newspaper, some retro music and a cat or two. I'm a tea drinker. Never liked coffee. I like to wake up, make a big pot of tea, and consume it while I read the fun bits in the newspaper. When not listening to one of our favorite radio shows, I think swing and big band makes a fine sonic backdrop for a morning with the paper. I read most everything except the actual news part (which, frankly, is already stale when the newspaper gets plopped onto the driveway, and besides - the news is always depressing these days) and the ads (I could care less what is on sale at Walmart). For actual news, I check the internet, make sure no catastrophes have occurred in the last 24 hours, then move on to recreational surfing. I can usually convince one of the cats to drape herself on the couch with me. Zima is doing the honors right now. Moxy already had a turn while I was reading the paper. She chewed up the sports section while I wasn't looking. This would be a problem during football season, but today I wasn't going to read it anyway.

Not setting the alarm. One of my favorite things about weekends. PDM gets up by 7:00 most days, because he is insane. Just kidding. He is not insane; he is a morning person. I am not. I crawl out of bed any time between 7 and 10. Our arrangement works fine. I get private time at night and PDM gets private time in the morning.

PDM likes to get up early and invade Belgium. Or liberate Tunisia from fascist oppression. Seriously. I've seen him do it. You see, we have a room downstairs that we refer to as The Bunker. PDM keeps a war game set up all the time. The old fashioned kind, with the map, and the complicated rules, and the little cardboard square pieces. We have to keep the door closed at all times, because cats and wargames do not mix well. We'd hate for the giant cat of doom and her sweeping tail of destruction to cause mayhem on the battlefield. I don't pretend to understand this particular hobby. But it makes the man happy and that is what weekends are for.

Puttering around in the yard used to make me happy on the weekends. But lately it has been hot and muggy, even early in the morning, and it never rains, and we have very restricted watering times. That pretty much killed the joy of gardening for me. I'll do some more landscaping in the fall, provided the water situation is better then.

What kind of stuff makes you so happy on the weekends that it turns into a routine?

Saturday, July 22, 2006


Another treat via YouTube. PDM found this hilarious Cops parody, Star Wars style. Click it when you have 10 minutes to spare - you won't be disappointed.


Friday, July 21, 2006

Don't Panic!!

I hate the panic button on my car remote. I pressed it by accident this morning as I was locking my car (for about the hundredth time it seems). As usual, it startled me into momentary witlessness, as I scrambled to turn the damn thing off. A full-on adrenaline surge is not what I need first thing in the morning when I arrive at work. All that panic button ever does is cause *me* to panic.

It is way too easy to press this button. Yes, it is bright red and on the back of the remote and in theory one should never confuse it with any of the other buttons. But confusion is not how it gets triggered. They put it right where you would naturally grip the remote when using it to lock your car. And it isn't recessed enough to shield it from casual contact. I've accidentally triggered panic mode by simply putting my keys into my purse and closing it. A pox on the engineers who designed this thing. They need to take a remedial course on "human factors engineering". Or use some common sense. Idiots.

The Fine Art of Loafing

Friday CatBlogging edition:

Cats are the masters at the fine art of loafing. I wish I could loaf half as good as they can. Lately, I just can't relax at all. I finished grad school (for the second time) in December and for a brief shining moment, I did not have to study anymore. But now, all that has changed. In about a month, I have to take Part 1 of the ABR Board Exam to become a certified medical physicist. [There are two more exams after this one.] So back in June, I began reviewing all of the material expected to show up on the test in August. The two tests, actually. Clinical anatomy and physiology and general physics. Ack, ack, ack! And now the tests are little more than one month away and crunch time has begun. The more I study, the more tense I become. But in spite of my tenseness, the cats seem oblivious to it all, and are able to relax in the most adorable ways.

The only surprise about this basket being Zima's current favorite hang out spot is that it is actually large enough to accomodate her. She usually selects much smaller cubbyholes to cram her heft into.

Moxy may be young, but she has already mastered the fine art of relaxation, kitty style. [If you look real close, you can see our "acme-cat-training-double-sticky-tape" affixed to the bottom of the couch. She used to claw and scratch there, but the tape stopped her in her tracks. Feel free to try this at home with your own cats. Works like a charm!]

She doesn't limit herself to soft, upholstered perches, either. She looks real cute here. You'd never guess that she can be the spawn of satan occasionally.

Both cats wish they could go see Clerks II with me tonight. But it is Rated R and they aren't old enough. Hah!

P.S. I hate studying MRI imaging with a fiery passion. I get the initial physics part of it, but I can't seem to wrap my brain around how they get an image out... Anyone having a VERY SIMPLE explanation is welcome to contact me via comments.

P.P.S. I can't thank PDM enough for all of the cooking he's done since I began studying. If not for him, no doubt I would have already starved to death. He not only feeds me, his creations are masterpieces of the culinary arts. In short, PDM rocks!!!!!!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

T minus one and counting...

Clerks II - July 21, 2006

I don't usually go to see movies on their opening night. Or the opening weekend. Or any time there is likely to be a line, because crowds suck. But I think I'm going to have to make an exception for Clerks II. I've been looking forward to this movie for a long time. Jersey Girl notwithstanding, I have faith in Kevin Smith, and I expect Clerks II to be a lot of fun. This movie got an 8-minute standing ovation at Cannes for cryin' out loud, and without being some incomprehensible artsy-fartsy arthouse flick.

Movies are supposed to be entertaining. And low-brow humor, when done right, is highly entertaining. It is unfortunate that some people cannot remove the sticks from their asses and just go with it. Take Joel Siegel for example. Apparently he made quite the show of walking out of the press screening early into the movie. Smith says "I can't fault Mr. Siegel for feeling 'revolted' (his producer's description of Joel's reaction) by our flick; in truth, there is a donkey show in it, and I recognize that brand of whimsy might not be for everybody. Film appreciation is very subjective, and maybe Joel just isn't into ass-to-mouth conversations." But apparently Siegel missed the payoff: "Never mind the fact that the scene he was offended by (the ordering of the donkey show), with its (misleading) crude references is only the set-up to a third act pay-off that is a true bait-and-switch from where Joel's imagination went..."

For me, what separates the good movies of this type from the bad (and the ugly) is the presence of something besides an endless string of raunchy jokes. A good plot is essential, and the movie has to have heart. Vulgar comedies that have a touch of sweet sensitivity underlying the crudeness can rise to greatness. Ultimately, you have to sympathize with one or more characters and give a damn what happens to them. It is why American Pie is far superior to its two sequels, both of which lack the heart of the original. When you strip away all the gags (which are brilliantly funny), at heart American Pie is a rather sweet story of some teens learning about life, love, and sex. Good stories are what made Team America and Beavis and Butthead Do America more than just delivery vehicles for gratuitously gross gags. Sincerity and likeable characters are the reason the Austin Powers movies stand up to repeated viewings. And Office Space is a masterpiece that anyone who has ever worked for a soul-sucking corporation can understand and love.

So I'll be treating myself to Clerks II this weekend. I expect to have a hell of a good time! And to laugh myself silly at that donkey show scene...

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A virtual resident of Hicksville and the End of the World

Just for LL - another day of multiple posts! Fermicat is now happy to have a little place in Hicksville. It's a cool place to hang out for a bit and get to know the locals (except for this week with the fire and all). Meander on over there and check it out. You know you want to.

And it must be The End Of The World because I've been linked by Lord Loser! If you are wondering what it's like at the end of the world, or have ever been curious about what a bovine afterbirth looks like, you can find out there. If you like what you read (and you will), you can thank NYPinTA and Michele for pressuring LL into becoming LLogger.

Just another day in paradise

You know my cute little kitty? She clawed a 3" gash in the side of my foot with her razor sharp talons of doom while I was trying to take a nap. That's the kind of day I had yesterday. Our software that we use for just about every aspect of the job died on us about half a dozen times at work. Came home with a dull headache and feeling tired as hell, thus the attempt at a nap. Of course, none of this is in the same league as what the people in Hicksville have gone through in the last few days. Sometimes you need a little perspective. Compared to a devastating wildfire and its aftermath, I just had another day in paradise. Not just small potatoes. My bad day 'taters are microscopic.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Watched the series premier of Eureka tonight on Skiffy. It didn't suck. In fact, I kind of liked it.

Linked by the Winkin' Kitty

Hey, guess what? I've been linked! I'm pretty sure the winkin' kitty is the first real live person to link to me - on purpose and everything. 'Real live' as opposed to 'automatically generated linkage by's "recently updated" list thingy', not 'real live' as in 'the opposite of flesh-eating zombies'. If you don't read Talking to the Moon, you should. I've been addicted to, err, I mean 'reading' NYPinTA's blog for a while now. She's certified delightful!

My brain is like a sieve. Or a young Skywalker. Whatever.

PDM and I were both starving when we got home from work, so we decided to go out to the pub and have some wings and drinks. We hung out there for a while and went to a nearby restaurant for dinner. It is owned by a friend of ours and several of the menu items are outstanding. It had been a while since I ordered my favorite dish there - lobster ravioli. Since we had already had some buffalo wings at the pub, my plan was to eat all of the salad and half of the main course, and then pack up the rest for tomorrow's lunch.

I've gotta tell you, the lobster ravioli is succulent lobstery goodness in a rich, creamy brandy sauce. It is won-der-ful. I could have easily consumed it all. It took an act of willpower to leave half of it in the bowl. As we pay the bill, I carefully transfer the rest of the meal into my to-go box. And then promptly walk out and leave it on the table. ARRRGGGGHHHH!!!!!! I discover this when we are 90% of the way home, and no doubt the box is probably in the trash. No point in going back to retrieve it. Nope. I blew it. The reason I am so mad at myself is that I do this kind of thing all the frelling time!!

Are all of my neurons so completely occupied with other things that none can be spared for, say, maintaining at least a tenuous grasp on the here and now? It's like Luke Skywalker before his Jedi training - ("Never his mind on where he was. Hmmm? What he was doing. Hmpf.") - except instead of impatience, I have CRS disease. And maybe a touch of blonde roots.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Spin: A review that is less spoilery than the book jacket

My grade: A-
Bottom Line: Recommended reading!

Book Cover

Some of you may have noticed "On Fermicat's Nightstand" in my sidebar. I always appreciate good book recommendations and have discovered many of my favorite authors based on tips from friends (and lately from some of those "you might also like..." tools on internet booksellers' websites). I'll be posting book reviews of the nightstand denizens once I finish them. You can get an idea of the kind of books I like by checking out the books section of my profile. Rather than list individual books (too many!), I have listed some of my favorite authors. Most of the time I read science fiction, but occasionally I will throw something else into the mix. I also read non-fiction, but since I don't read non-fiction in bed, it will never be found on the nightstand. Got it? Here is my take on Spin, by Robert Charles Wilson. I stayed up until about 1:30am Saturday night to finish it. Yes, it was that good.

An excerpt from the book jacket:
"One night in October when he was ten years old, Tyler Dupree stood in his back yard and watched the stars go out. They all flared into brilliance at once, then disappeared, replaced by a flat, empty black barrier. He and his best friends, Jason and Diane Lawton, had seen what became known as the Big Blackout. It would shape their lives.

The effect is worldwide. The sun is now a featureless disk--a heat source, rather than an astronomical object. The moon is gone, but tides remain. [...] Time is passing faster outside the barrier than inside--more than a hundred million years per day on Earth. At this rate, the death throes of the sun are only about forty years in our future. [...]

Life on earth is about to get much, much stranger"

This book really sucked me in and kept me engaged until I finished it. The story is narrated by Tyler Dupree, but it is focused on the effect of the Spin membrane on earth and humankind. The story follows the lives of his friends, siblings Jason and Diane, who react to the Spin in very different ways. The author sustains the suspense about the future of the characters, as well as what would happen to the earth and everyone on it. Wilson does a good job of folding in bits of detail throughout that tie the storylines together, but not so much detail that the book becomes boring. He writes the story in two interwoven timelines, past and near-present, which merge at the end of the novel. This device helps keep the ending from getting bogged down and allows a fast paced resolution.

OK, having the stars go out isn't entirely original, but having a strange temporal and physical barrier placed around the earth by "the hypotheticals" sure is. And some of the attempted solutions and their consequences were interesting ideas and outcomes. I found the book fresh and engrossing, and stayed up way too late on several evenings because I couldn't put it down. It is the best novel I've read since Dan Simmons' Ilium, which was superb. A close runner up would be The Atrocity Archives (Charles Stross). I read that one last month and it was good, wacky fun with elements of science fiction, horror and the supernatural mixed in with the comedy. A detective story, sort of like Kiln People (David Brin), only weirder - with less science and more magic.

So that's four book recommendations for the price of one. You're welcome. Enjoy.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

It never rains in California... or in Atlanta, Georgia.

I've got that song in my head, but with the wording above...

Remember that Steve Martin movie, L.A. Story, where he plays the wacky weatherman? Every day he tries to put a new spin on the forecast, which is exactly the same: "Sunny. 72." He ends up getting a little nutty, and those electronic highway signs they have all over LA start talking to him. And he has an unusual date with Sarah Jessica Parker -- "Well, it was a great lunch and enema, thanks." But I digress... Lately, our weather in Atlanta makes me think of that movie. For the last two months or so, the forecast is basically the same every day. Sunny. And much hotter than 72. But no rain.

I never thought I would mind a constant string of good weather days. But there are consequences. For one thing, we are now in a "level one" drought. This means tighter restrictions on outdoor water use, low water level in lakes and rivers, and the prospect of things getting worse if it doesn't rain. Three different states depend on, and fight over, the water from Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River. The crisis with the lakewater was made much worse because the Army Corps of Engineers released an extra 22 billion (yes, with a "B") gallons downstream by mistake. It seems that they did not properly calibrate a new gauge, and didn't apply common sense when the gauge reading (3 feet low) did not seem to jive with reality (5 feet low). To give you some perspective, 22 billion gallons would supply the metro Atlanta area for 118 days. That is a lot of water down the drain.

Back when the drought was first announced and we were under a total watering ban, I started collecting stormwater from my gutters. Yes, we still get occasional thunderstorms here. They don't help the plants much because most of the water simply runs off and doesn't soak in like a nice steady rain would. The water collection process was labor intensive, but I got about 100 gallons the first time around. I am planning to make or buy a rainbarrel, so I can collect rainwater without having to sit by the downspout with a bucket, getting completely soaked.

There is something about collecting rainwater that has made me very conscious about how much water we waste. So now I try to be more careful with it. What else have I learned? 1. I learned not to take water for granted. We really are quite fortunate to have it. 2. I learned that the bed of a pickup truck makes an excellent raincatcher if you park it with the back of the bed facing uphill. 3. Dead grass does not feel nice to walk on barefoot. Too crunchy. 4. Bugs don't come into the house as much in dry weather. Yay. 5. Having the same weather every day is boring, even if it is really nice weather.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Aging is a pain in the ________.

One of the crappiest things about getting older is that it hurts. I never really noticed this until a friend pointed it out. (Thanks, Larry.) But it's true -- if you are above a certain age and let yourself become aware of how your body feels, you will always find that something doesn't feel quite right. And that's on a good day. On a bad day, there is no need to shift your awareness because whatever it is that hurts, almost always for no apparent reason, has been screaming at you since you got out of bed. If you are really lucky, the part of you that hurts will wake you out of a sound sleep just so you don't miss any of the experience. Once you pass a certain age (30, 33, 37.5?) there is not ever a time you can honestly say that everything feels great and nothing hurts. Except maybe when there is some alcohol involved, but that's cheating. The best you can do is to not be consciously aware of it. That really sucks. No wonder old people are so cranky! ;-) They've had this going on for decades.

What really pisses me off about this is the total lack of logic. I can understand if I lift something heavy and the next day my back hurts. But why would my toe hurt? Or left elbow throb? Or wrist ache?? It makes no sense at all. I always figured at some point the aches and pains would start, but I never expected that stuff to happen in my thirties. Seems like it shouldn't happen until you retire, right?

And for any of you who have passed the "certain age" when this happens and hadn't noticed this phenomenon, I just popped your happy bubble. Now that I've mentioned it, you can't help but notice that something always hurts. Sorry. My bad.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Cats Love Monitors

Joining the Friday CatBlogging craze...

Zima misses my old-style CRT monitor... From a cat's perspective there is a lot to like about them: they are warm, elevated, comfortable, and their human stares at it a lot. As with book-sitting and newspaper-napping, there is ample opportunity to obstruct viewing, and isn't that the cat's ultimate goal? Seems like there was always a tail or a paw hanging down blocking something crucial.

When I moved a couple of years ago, I took the cat with me, but left the big hulking CRT monitor behind. Got myself a shiny new LCD flat screen. Zima took this as a challenge and tried very hard to balance on top of the LCD monitor, but ran into an ugly truth: Flat screen displays make lousy cat perches. Did this stop her from being a pain in the ass? Oh no. Cats are adaptable. Now she walks back and forth in front of the LCD monitor depositing little white cat hairs on it, and if I'm really lucky she'll decide to plop down on the keyboard. While I'm using it.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

It's Thursday, But I'm "Having A Case Of The Mondays"

Today started off bad. Moxy was meowing to be let out of her room at 4am and didn't stop until we let her out at 6:45. When I got up, I thought it was Friday. Quickly realized that was not the case and felt the inevitable letdown of knowing I've gotta do it all again tomorrow. Got sprayed in the face when I disconnected the hose after watering my outdoor plants. Hit my funnybone in the shower. Scared the cat. Left the house late. Immediately got stuck behind this old guy in a truck who wouldn't go more than 30 MPH even though the speed limit is 35. Caught every red light between home and work. Now that I'm here, there isn't a whole lot to do, so the day is going to crawl by at a snail's pace.

I'm hoping that all this bad stuff was just the universe giving me my daily dose of bullshit all at once, so I can get it out of the way early. And a light workload means that I should have time to study at work and I won't have to do it at home. Tonight, instead of reading about the physics of MRI imaging, I can watch my tape of Nightmares and Dreamscapes from last night. I might even have a glass of red wine. So things aren't as bad as they appeared an hour ago. And the best thing is that no one here will make a sour face and ask me if I'm having a case of the Mondays.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

How It All Turned Out

The lecture went OK, except for the guy who kept nodding off. It is just impossible to make "IMRT QA Using Argus(tm)" interesting, especially to someone who has recently consumed a big lunch. I used a red background for my slides (a tasteful, hand-selected "chili pepper" red, not the default "midlife crisis sports car" red) and cracked a few jokes, but that can only take you so far.

The birthday celebrating part of the day was way more fun than the giving a talk to a bunch of students part of the day. It also beat the working my ass off so I can leave early part of the day. This year's Theme Gift went over pretty well. It was one of those things that would either be a big hit or a big bomb. The theme was "Tiki Lounge". I got PDM a metric crapload of lounge music and some cheesy little tiki god coasters. There were a handful of "misses" in the music, but most of the tracks were "hits". This weekend we'll be chillin' and groovin' and drinking some Mai Tai cocktails.

The cats don't do Theme Gifts. They got him a sodium chloride containment unit.

Happy 41st, PDM

PDM is my husband. I'm sure he'll show up in the blog now and then...

From yesterday: PDMIPDO = "Party Down Marty" Is Pretty Damn Old. I'm recycling that bit from last year's party invites. The good news is that he isn't 40. The bad news is that he's 41.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

What, me worry?

I have to give a lecture to some students tomorrow at work and I've been too busy to get nervous about it. Sweet!

The downside is that I've also been too busy to give it much thought at all once I finished the power point slides last week. It might completely suck. I hope not, but if I crash and burn at least it'll be one more data point in my "how not to give a crappy lecture" database. You gotta look at the bright side.

I have to quit writing and get some sleep because tomorrow* is a big day. Got about a day and half of work to fit in before 2:30 - check. 2:30 to 3:30 - Brilliant lecture on "IMRT QA using Argus(tm)" or spectacular flop of the same name - check. 3:30 - it would be cool to leave work early - tentative check. Then the PDMIPDO festivities begin and I have an official excuse to skip studying for the evening. So once the lecture thingy is over with things are looking up!

*7/12 is PDMIPDO Day. Yippee. Party Down.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The "Weekly Thoughtful Reminder" and other hazards of working

Every week at work, we all receive a "weekly thoughtful reminder" email. It has some random philosophical type of quote that is no doubt supposed to be inspirational, along with some cheerfully upbeat instructions to "be positive" and such. I don't think any of us actually read them any more. I'm pretty sure that we are capable of being thoughtful without having to be reminded on a regular basis. And if they want me to be more thoughtful, sending me less unimportant email might be a good place to start. But this got me thinking about how good I have it in the new career. There really isn't very much Dilberty stuff going on at work. The "weekly thoughtful reminder" is pretty much it. Meetings are rare, and the bosses don't have pointy hair. [Hey! That rhymes!] I have a real office with an actual door that can be closed when I need privacy or a quiet work environment.

Back when I was an engineer, things were much different. Life as a cube-dweller rarely made any sense. Upper management making inexplicable decisions, due dates moving up without regard to reality, middle manager fiefdoms being fiercely protected, and the endless parade of meetings just sucked the humanity out of everyone. And don't forget those TPS Reports. "We're putting new cover sheets on the TPS reports before they go out." "Didn't you get the memo?" OK, I didn't do TPS reports, but you get the idea. Engineers have to document the entire design-build-test process and I don't know of any good engineers who enjoy project paperwork. Not to mention the painful process of getting said paperwork signed and approved by every department manager all the way up the food chain.

So next time I get that weekly thoughtful reminder I will use the few seconds I spend deleting it to remember how lucky I am that it is not an invitation to yet another useless meeting. And I might even close my office door... just because I can.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


What's cuter than a kitten? A wet kitten!

Moxy had that icky shelter smell and I was sneezing constantly, so there was only one thing to do. She tried to defend herself, but mostly I was able to avoid her razor sharp talons of doom. I sincerely hope that this was the last time she needs a bath that doesn't involve her tongue.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Dukes of Hezmana

Having no original thoughts I wish to share today, I bring you some outside entertainment. Which you should enjoy if you have seen Farscape.

And if you haven't seen Farscape, what are you waiting for?!?

Friday, July 07, 2006

June was "Adopt-A-Cat Month"

We decided to celebrate by adopting a cat. We brought her home three weeks ago today. It took us another five days to come up with a name we both liked -- Moxy. It's short for Moccasin, because she has white paws. She came from The Atlanta Humane Society, which is how several of my previous cats came into my life - including Fermi, my online namesake.

We have a 12 year old cat who has been solo for two years. We didn't want to rock her world any more than we had to, so we sought out some advice regarding the Big Introduction. Zima started out by acting kind of depressed, then she switched to an "avoid and ignore" strategy. She moved on to the "show the little twerp who's boss" game. By now, I'd say she's at the grudging acceptance stage. She still acts like she doesn't like Moxy batting at her tail and trying to lick her, but if she really hated it she could easily get away from her. And doesn't.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Hello World

First post - probably doomed to be lame. 'Scuse the start-up growth pangs. Definitely lame.

Let me say that starting a new career and paying dues at 40 sucks very much worse than it did at 20-something. Sometime when I have not had so much wine I will write about all that. Suffice it to say that life is much different now than it was five years ago!

I'd also like to say howdy to some friends of mine from some other message boards: NYPinTA, John (Random Squeegee), Michele (Johnsgirl), Stellar, LaBomba. Maybe when I am smarter about blogging I will figure out how to link to them! But not tonight...

Holy cow!! I left trinamick out of the above list. Oh nooooo! Sorry trinamick. In my defense, I was quite tipsy when I created this post. I left some other people out, too. Oh well.